Prosperity (Flash Fiction Friday)

  • Word Count: 975
  • Word: Snow
  • Trope: Jealousy

PROSPERITY by Killian Levy

“Her name’s Liv. Don’t ask her what she’s been through. But something tells me you two would get along.”

My buddy wasn’t wrong. As soon as Liv flopped in the car, I felt harmony. She didn’t say anything, didn’t need to. She smelled like vanilla and ammonia. Sweat stains yellowed her white tee and grime shined the ankles of her skinny jeans. She looked like Maggie.

They all look like Maggie now. I could find her in every face that looked my way. Even my buddy can look like her. Liv was his aunt; they already looked the same.

Maggie didn’t look like anybody. She was remarkable, until she left, and now everyone looks like her. Liv was a user—so was I, and so was my buddy. Didn’t matter to me.

“Where to?” I asked.

Liv’s face burrowed into a gray hoodie. “Drop him off first,” Liv said, muffled.

She adjusted the two hospital bands on her wrist and looked out the window. She sat behind me while I drove, so I couldn’t see her in the rear-view. I guessed that was deliberate. I was a stranger, and she had OD’d twice this week. On purpose or accident, I wasn’t sure—buddy asked for a favor, and I owed him.

She hopped to the front when my buddy got out. Her eyes stayed glued to him until he was down the street and out of view.

“You holding?” she asked.

My hand was hot on my thigh. Of course I was. I’d had a vial on me every day since Maggie ditched out and left her face on every billboard and bus bench—every child that passed on a tricycle had her nose, and every girl at every party wore her mask. The vial was burning a hole through my pocket. “Didn’t you just get out for holding? Won’t they test you?” Liv was wearing Maggie’s mask now.

“Test me?” Liv laughed. She didn’t sound like Maggie. Her hair was different, too. “They don’t have a test for props yet.”

She was probably right.

Props. Prosperity. The name of the drug that hit the streets a few months back. I never did drugs until after Maggie—when props came around. Think my buddy got it from Liv the first time, in fact. My first snuff tasted like printer ink. It flipped me upside down and turned me inside out. Everything melted away—that’s when features first fell off everyone’s faces. Faceless people in crowds and clean slate mannequins in mirrors told me I was worth loving. Worth living. It gave me the confidence to write papers for class and ask girls out I never would have asked out. It didn’t get me Maggie back.

Liv put her hand on my leg and told me not to take her home. “Keep going straight,” she whispered. Her hand reached into my pocket and pulled the vial out of my jeans. She did a snuff and put the vial to my nose. It didn’t taste like printer ink anymore.

An hour later (after a stop at my propsmaster for more vials), we were outside of the city and pulling into a cabin that belonged to a friend of hers. I didn’t care who’s house it was as long as she kept Maggie’s mask on. Liv didn’t care that I called her Maggie halfway through the drive; she didn’t ask who the name belonged to. It belonged to her now. This cabin was ours now, too.

“What do I call you?” she asked. She was already walking away—she didn’t care—it only mattered what she wanted to call me.

“Do you have a mask you want me to use?” When the faces all blurred together, the attention could be from anyone; they became what you wanted.

She ignored the question and pulled into the cabin. I don’t remember how she got in—it hadn’t mattered.

I lit a fire—it burned the cold from my hands and the heaviness in my chest.

We snuffed and took turns touching each other’s faces. Hours dissolved with each new mask I wore for her—laying naked on bathroom towels in front of the fire, hearing all the words she spoke to the nameless: the dead, the hated, the abusive, the loved. I was all of the people from whom she needed to hear affirmation. I mimicked the words she mouthed with chapped lips, acted as the voice of the ghosts that lived inside.

“Maggie,” I whispered. She touched my thigh and moved her lips around my jaw. She said the name back to me in a harmony that sang the tune of ecstasy.

“I want you back,” she said. “I’m sorry. You’re all I’ve ever needed. You’re all I want.”

Maggie’s face began vibrating.

She screamed. “Who are you? What do you want? They’re all mine; these faces are mine!”

I stared in the mirror from across the room. I didn’t recognize who looked back at me as my skin wriggled across the reflective metal under the glass. Liv screamed—a voice I didn’t know. She shot up and bolted across the room. Her bare feet stepped on broken brown vials, and her hands rummaged for something in the drawers.

“Where’s Maggie?”

***

My legs crunch the snow when I pull myself up. I look down at the blue handle of a screwdriver sticking out of my chest—part of the handle is melted. Maggie lies next to me; her face turns to me, and she smiles. Her blue eyes match the color of the sky above, and the snow underneath her is quiet. Looking cold in her white tee, I drape a grey hoodie around her shoulders.

Three figures step out of the trees where a cop car wails sirens that echo through the valley.

They all have Maggie’s face.

What’s In A (pen)Name?

A name can be a tricky thing. It is you—at least the you that anyone will take with them. A name is the first thing someone learns about you. It’s the thing they try to remember as you jib-jab small talk—not many other details will stick (unless you have a dog with you…and then they will only ever remember your dog’s name for the rest of time).

Names are an identifier, albeit not a very good one. Look at how many James Smiths there are in the world (over 35k said one ancestry census). There is a good chance you are walking around with hundreds or thousands of people with your exact name. There are not a whole heckuva lot of people with my first/last name combination, but there is one particularly famous one—that’s where my current problem lies.

I think I need a pen name.

I don’t want one. I spent a long time thinking I didn’t need one. However, after a few years of moving my name around, trying my middle initial, and a few other ways to get around this famous person’s name on the internet, I have not gotten very far in establishing myself and popping this person’s bubble on Google. Now, my long-time internet ‘handle’ has its own life on the web. I’ve had it for twenty years. Exiled Replicant is singular and can easily be remembered and found. But I can’t necessarily publish books as “The Exiled Replicant.” I suppose I could, but wow, would that be pretentious.

I googled pen name generators and anagrams of my sobriquet. Still, it’s way too long to come up with anything resembling catchy by using those ordinary devices. Eventually, I came up with some possibilities and felt a new life forming. I got excited. (oo) I said to myself, thinking about the personification of the new life I’d created. Not a character, but a new me. Maybe, even possibly, a name I would have to stick with for the rest of my career (if by some miracle you ever sell something and become known by any small group of readers).

How do you choose?!

There’s also the small notion of having to change everything you’ve ever worked on up until this point to now be that new name. What are the easiest and choicest steps to changing your social handles, website addresses, and bylines on everything possible to erase your retired persona? Do you keep more than one nom de plume at hand for a time you need to incinerate some other version of yourself that you no longer feel you can encapsulate?

When it comes down to brass tax, the questions become: do I decide to juggle multiple names, Twitter handles, and websites for different components of my writing career? Stick with the one I already have and just deal with being on page nine of the world wide web unless I can surpass a famous musician? Or create one new name, one time, and just continue along my course, as myself personality-wise, with a new name?

How many of you know Anne Rice or C.S. Lewis’ real names? Kirk Douglas or Elton John’s? How long ahead of their career did they decide? Were they well on their way before they got the full agent “turnaround,” or were they smart enough to do it from the get-go? The only one I can think of was when I saw early acting videos of Willem Dafoe pronouncing his name differently. Everyone else seems to have quickly swept their old selves under the rug.

How many of you have gone with a pen name? And if so, did you always have that name from the beginning or have to choose your own path later on?

NFTs: The Weight of Intangibility

Alright, I’ve joined the bandwagon.

Or, at least, to say, I have taken the first steps to join the bandwagon. The wagon is empty. Or, not empty – you can see it filled to the brim from a distance, like a mirage. The closer you get to the wagon, the more you realize you can’t actually touch any of the stuff in that wagon. That wagon is filled with NFTs.

The NFT Bandwagon

TF IS AN NFT?

Non-fungible tokens. You can google them for a week and barely wrap your head around what that means. It can be anything – a piece of music, a painting, or even a tweet or meme. It is sold or traded like a cryptocurrency. Unlike cryptocurrency, not all NFTs are created equal. You have probably seen NFTs’ as extensive collections of 8-bit or low-res characters that have thousands of different iterations. A single key or group of keys, made in photoshop or something similar, and mod-ed with varying numbers of teeth, tops, chains, jewels, etc. I saw one of these low-res keys going for $14; on the same page, I saw one of these keys from the same collection going for $95 million. Yes, that’s with 6 zeros.

It’s all so…well, intangible. But there is something there. Something that, once the hype dies down and the beanie-baby-style collecting of 8-bit characters disappears, could be very tangible – especially for artists. I’ve been learning for a few weeks now. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I am trying to dip my toe into the deep ethereal waters of Ethereum; the blocks of data that are Bitcoin; the flooded market of adobe pixels with little artistic value. Through all of that, I can see a little of something in there for the rest of us.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR US?

For writing, I can see a market where I publish a book in the NFT space. I have a run of 1,000 copies that sell. I have another run with unique features like a blu ray – versions of the book with extra chapters, maps of my worlds, and languages created during my artism. Character profiles, wiki links, and mythology deep dives. It’s a place for people like me – completionists. It would be really cool to have a place where you give people unique gifts if they figure out some particular puzzle hidden in an NFT. A world where the deeper you dive into a fantasy land, the more prizes and information you can learn about the world you wrap yourself in. That sounds like a fun place. And yes, a lucrative niche for artists.

Of course, I am naïve when it comes to new things. I don’t immediately think of ways to get one over on the population and how to skim the system. Sometimes I wish I was more cutthroat in that way, but I’m just not. I don’t know how evil the crypto and NFT space could be for people, but I would be willing to bet there could be a niche in there for real markets.

Concept cryptographic nft on a hundred-dollar bill franklin in glasses.

FAD OR FUTURE?

One of the most exciting parts of the NFT space is that it exists on the blockchain, public and decentralized. The idea is that when a photographer does a photo shoot, everyone attached to that photo will get a percentage of the profits every time that NFT is sold. If it becomes worth more money, that percentage stays the same for everyone. The makeup artist, hairstylist, wardrobe, photographer, and model can all be attached to that publicly every time it’s sold. When you buy a book at a bookstore (I know, I’m a romantic) and then you give it to a second-hand shop, and it’s sold for half price, in the NFT world, the author would still make a bit of that second sale in the NFT marketplace.

Now, of course, in any market, nothing is stopping that person from gifting that book to someone else or taking screenshots and sending it up as a torrent, but that’s never going to change. The majority of people don’t want to go through the steps to commit thievery online. Most will buy their books on Amazon (and everything else, for that matter). Using an NFT space gives the artists more control of how much money they make on each sale than Amazon.

MURKY CLOUDS

Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash

Regarding the digital Amazon Marketplace, let’s talk about the volatility of buying things online. None of us can see Amazon disappearing overnight. We put a metric boat-load of faith in Amazon for what we buy. Whether it’s MP3s, MP4s, JPGs, or others – when we buy something digital on Amazon, it generally exists in one place…Amazon. What happens if that movie you bought on Prime was not there tomorrow? Somehow, if Amazon goes under or disappears, your digital assets are gone. Poof. The same problem exists for NFTs…kind of.

The silly thing about NFTs now is that the main selling point being worth money isn’t even the artwork they are attached to. It’s all about that blockchain proof that you own it. No one can argue with the fact that you own an NFT when you buy it on the blockchain. Unless you sell it or trade it, it’s yours. Now, what happens if that site you purchased the NFT from disappears overnight? Not much, it seems. Suppose that token gets corrupted or is no longer accessible through its originating server. In that case, the owner can always make a new token and say that the original is corrupt. But then, is it worth the crypto it was digitized on? The bragging rights around NFTs are that proof. People can still use the artwork all over the internet and not get sued, but only that one person truly owns that digitized piece. At the moment, that means very little, but it could mean more in the future. This is what makes collecting NFTs a possible positive investment.

Iffy news, but again, with the possibility of being good in the future. Buy a band’s new album as an NFT. You can download it physically (usually in more than one format or way) and keep it how you want, instead of it only being accessible on the site (like Amazon or Spotify) and trusting that they stick around forever. This is the thing I like about the possible future for the NFT marketplace.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

It means to keep your ears open. This market isn’t new, and even though people say it’s just a fad that will quickly fade, it has been around for almost a decade and only continues to gain more traction. The news surrounding it is not great – with the carbon footprint and energy required to crunch the numbers that make the blockchain exist. With any new thing, it will change and mutate. I don’t want to be one of those old men shaking my head and refusing to use crypto when somehow it becomes the only way to buy stuff. I want to get ahead of it and learn a little about what could make this marketplace the future.

Tell me your thoughts in the comments! Have you had any experience in the NFT marketplace? What are your experiences?

Hugo Award Finalists 2019!

If you need a new list of books to read this summer, get on these before the awards in August!

Which have you read? Who do you think is going to win for Best Novel?

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

 

Click here to see the rest of the categories and nominees!

Queer up the classics

A FUN IDEA: Our favorite classic authors are our favorites for a reason, but because of the times there was a severe lack of gay characters and storylines. Taking your favorite authors from the golden age of sci-fi (from Asimov to Zebrowski), tell us your favorite story and explain in the comments how you’d “queer” it up!

– Idea from Queer Sci Fi!

Tell Me Your Favorites

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – click

Check out one I really enjoy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies. They have so many stories, many of them fantasy and second world based, and have been around for a decade. A large selection of their stories also come as podcasts to listen to!

Do you have any other lists of websites like this one? I’d love to see your favorites!

Instaration #6

Look out the window,
Find a sign, find a face.
The stacks of well-worn sorrow
are paled against snow-dusted glass.

I hold my hand out to you,
Press the glass, feel my warmth.
Your home is much more than a hearth.

_

Spent the weekend in chilly St. Paul for Jingle Ball and stayed at the beautiful St. Paul Hotel. It had a very warm and old school feeling against the snow and biting cold of the city.

Just as I was packing for my flight to head home, I pulled open a drawer and saw their beautiful post cards and stationary. Well, I couldn’t help myself. I let my bag fall and pulled the chair out, reaching for my new pen (the one I had stolen from another drawer in that same hotel room earlier) and had to put something down.

This was a nice thing to add to the memory of my trip, so I think I’ll have to do something like this at more of the hotels I visit!

Spiders

Just a little Halloween inspired prose for October.

SPIDERS

Do I live among the spiders,

or do the spiders live with me?

I am not entirely sure,

Will you help make it clearer to me?

Humble in living, crude in thought,
I make the most of what I haven’t been taught.
I am the man in my castle, king of my hill,
but the spiders sit above me, hiding their will.
Night comes again and I slink into bed,
reminiscing and planning for a few days ahead.
From their webs they come down, crawling in droves,
but my eyes cannot see, for I am dreaming of groves.
They descend and tickle my skin with their legs,
my body jumps, shaking the bed from its pegs.
Jolted I wake, feeling and reaching to fight,
but the spiders have scurried off, giggling in the night.
It’s only the bites they leave, oozing and blue,
that makes me realize what I am to do.
Tis your webs of deceit, and your sharp little teeth,
that wrap around my soul and puncture my meat.
I shall wait silent in the night, looking for thine,
evil fucking spiders, your sins are now mine.
Do I live among the spiders,
or do the spiders live with me?
I’m still not entirely sure,
but killing you was curing to me.